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Media Landscapes


Written by Helge Østbye


Norway is located in the northwest corner of Europe, with a long coastline toward the North Sea, the Atlantic and the Barents Sea. About 4.8 million people live in Norway, half of them in the southeastern part of the country, in or near the capital Oslo. The other half of the population lives around the coast and in valleys. Norway has traditionally been described as an egalitarian society.

After 400 years of Danish rule, Norway became a semi-independent state in a union with Sweden in 1814; it gained full independence in 1905. Written Norwegian language was identical to Danish until around 1900. Spoken Norwegian was, and is, divided into many dialects. Since 1885 Norway has had two official Norwegian languages. Bokmål (‘literary language’) is based on Danish but has been influenced by the dialects from areas around Oslo. As a part of a struggle for cultural and political independence, a second Norwegian language was created on the basis of dialects, mainly from the western parts of the country. This language is called Nynorsk (‘new Norwegian’). These two languages are mutually easily understandable. In addition to these two, two other languages have an official status: Sami (spoken by the Sami population in northern Norway) and Kven (spoken by decedents of early Finnish immigrants to northern Norway). Sami and Kven are not Indo-European languages.

In the period since the Second World War, Norway became a well-developed welfare state. The standard of living is high, partly thanks revenue from oil and gas found in Norwegian sector of the North Sea and the Atlantic.
Norway has been a member of NATO since the alliance formed in 1949. Twice (1972 and 1994) the Norwegian population has rejected membership in the EU, but Norway is integrated in the EU’s single market via the European Economic Area Agreement.

There has been a high level of literacy in Norway for the last 200 or 250 years (a compulsory school system was introduced in 1739). Religious texts (New Testaments, psalm books, prayer books, etc.) could in some rural areas be found in most homes in the early 1800s. Print works and bookshops often published books and pamphlets, but until 1900 most of the respected Norwegian authors (like Henrik Ibsen) had their books published by Danish publishing houses. Gradually, during the first part of the 20th century, Norwegian book publishing gained strength and independence. A Swedish and a Danish company jointly own the largest publisher, Cappelen-Damm.

Danish publishers also dominated the Norwegian magazine market from early 1900s with Norwegian editions and content produced for the Norwegian market. With regard to ownership, Danish companies (Egmont, Aller) are still dominant today.

The first Norwegian newspapers were established in the 1760s but it took almost 100 years before newspaper reading spread to ordinary people. From 1884, when the first political parties were established, there were close links between the parties and newspapers. Each of the three to five major parties tried to establish its own paper in each town and city. The newspapers were generally small, but towns all over the country had their own papers. A system with two to four newspapers in each town made almost every citizen a newspaper reader, regardless of geography and occupation. This system was destroyed during the Second World War but to a large extent recreated between 1945 and 1950. Since then, local competition has become tough and has resulted in monopolisation. Since the mid 1970s a parallel and related process has de-politicised newspapers. Today almost no papers have formal links with political parties. During the period when smaller newspapers in the towns had to give up, new papers appeared in smaller communities that previously had no newspaper. The total number of newspapers has remained more or less constant, but the structure has dramatically changed (from local competition to local monopolies).

The focus of the newspapers changed, too. They moved from being advocates for the political parties to more commercial goals. This led to a change in ownership. The papers used to have local owners with little focus on the economic result of the paper. From the 1980s a lot of newspapers were sold to newspaper chains and media conglomerates.

In total, there are between 220 and 230 newspapers in Norway (according to Sigurd Høst, who registers all changes in newspaper structure in Norway).

Two of these papers are classified as popular newspapers (in terms of single-copy sales, in contrast to subscription figures, which dominate in all groups of newspapers) with national sales: VG (circulation in 2008: 285,000) and Dagbladet (125,000). Both these papers have lost many readers since 2000.

There are some newspapers classified as national opinion papers, linked to an ideology or a popular movement, like Dagsavisen (Social Democrat, 30,000), Vårt Land (Christian, 25,000), Klassekampen (radical, Marxist-Leninist; 12,000). These are daily papers, but some of the opinion papers are weekly.

A third group of national papers is the financial papers: Dagens Næringsliv (85,000) and Finansavisen (25,000). All these papers are published in the capital.

There are a handful of regional papers in Norway. They serve two functions: They are local newspapers for a city and also cover a larger region. They cover international, national, regional and local news. Regional papers include: Aftenposten (Oslo, 250,000), Bergens Tidende (Bergen, 85,000), Adresseavisen (Trondheim, 75,000), Stavanger Aftenblad (Stavanger, 65,000). This group has also lost readers over the last 10 years.

Finally, there are local newspapers. Some are relatively large, like Fædrelandsvennen (Kristiansand, 40,000), Romerikes Blad (daily, Lillestrøm, 40,000) and Tønsbergs Blad (Tønsberg, 30,000). Some are small: Arbeidets Rett (three times per week, Røros, 8,000), Rjukan Arbeiderblad (daily, Rjukan, 2,000), Ytre Sogn (twice weekly, Høyanger, 1,500). There are also a lot of small, local, weekly papers. Some papers in this group have lost readers, but in general group of papers has maintained readership levels. There are approximately 60 daily, local newspapers as well as 80 non-daily and 60 weekly local newspapers in Norway.

Until the early 1980s almost all Norwegian newspapers were owned individually. Usually the owner resided in the local community where the paper operated and was read. For the last 25 years there has been a strong concentration of ownership.

Schibsted, the creator and owner of Aftenposten, controls a third of all newspaper circulation. This media conglomerate owns the highest-selling newspaper in Norway, VG, and a chain of large, regional newspapers (Media Norge, which consists of Aftenposten, Bergens Tidende, Stavanger Aftenblad and Fædrelandsvennen). Although non-Norwegian investors own half of the shares in Schibsted, it is regarded as a Norwegian media owner.

A-pressen formed in the early 1990s on the basis of the old Social Democrat newspapers. These papers have abandoned their party affiliations, but the trade unions are one of the three dominant owners. The company has bought some formerly independent or non-socialist newspapers.

Edda (owned by the British company Mecom) is the third-largest newspaper owner. A-pressen and Edda own many medium-sized and small newspapers. A fourth group, called Polaris Media Group, formed in 2008, when the regional paper Adresseavisen was excluded when Media Norge was established. Polaris is more of a regional newspaper chain, covering the northwestern, central (Trøndelag) and northern parts of Norway.

Compared to almost all other nations, there is a high number of newspaper titles and rate of newspaper readership (between 550 and 600 copies are sold per 1,000 inhabitants). People from almost all segments of the population − geographically and socially − are regular newspaper readers. Both quality papers and popular newspapers are read in all segments of the society.

From 1995-2000 there was a reduction in the circulation and readership of newspapers. The most worrying element in this development is that young people seem to reduce their newspaper reading more than the rest of the population. The financial crises that began in 2008 and continued in 2009 decreased revenues from advertising. These two trends have left the newspaper industry in a depressed mood.

Broadcasting started in Norway from 1924 to 1927 with four licensed, local companies. These merged into one national company, Norsk Rikskringkasting – the NRK, in 1933. The NRK was owned by the state and maintained a monopoly status until 1981. At that time, there was only one radio channel available. Since 1940 advertising has been prohibited in the NRK. Norwegians pay an annual fee to the NRK for the right to watch television. This fee also finances NRK’s radio programme.

NRK broadcasts three programmes via analogue FM transmitters: P1 is a general programme with variable content. For several hours per day, this programme is divided into as many as 17 regional windows. P2 is a channel for news and culture. P3 tries to attract young listeners. In addition, NRK provides several digital channels (news, classical music, jazz, folk music, a programme in Sami language, sport, old entertainment programmes, etc.). These channels are available in Digital Audio Broadcast (DAB) and on the Internet. Sometime in the foreseeable future, the FM network will close and DAB will take over.

In 1982 the Department of Culture decided to allow local organisations to start broadcasting local radio. Commercials were not allowed until 1992. In 1993 one private, national radio company – P4 – was established, financed by advertising. The Swedish media group Kinnevik owns P4. Ten years later, a second national radio company was introduced on the commercial market. RadioNorge, which is owned by the German ProSiebenSat.1 Group, now operates this second commercial channel.

In addition to the national radio channels, the country is divided into 141 districts for local radio. Most districts have only one frequency, but in the most populated areas, there are parallel local programmes. New privileges for local radio for the period from 2009 to 2013 were issued in 2008, but the handling of appeals has lasted almost one year into the seven-year period.

Two major European media companies have local radio networks focusing on the major cities in Norway: the Belgian-registered, German-owned multimedia company SBS (ProSiebenSat.1) and the French local radio network NRG (Energy).

NRK’s total share of the Norwegian radio market is 63 percent (2008), with P1 as the definitive market leader with 50 percent. The station P4 has 20 percent, RadioNorge 7 percent and local radio stations: 9 percent.

When the Broadcasting Act was passed in 1933, NRK’s monopoly included ordinary sound broadcasting, and “broadcasting of pictures,” which is a fairly good definition of television. The NRK started planning for television shortly after the Second World War, but the process took some time. The first test programmes were broadcasted in 1954. Regular tests started in 1957. The official opening of television in Norway took place in 1960 – shortly before the Olympic games in Rome.

NRK’s monopoly on television lasted well into the 1980s when local television (never a success in Norway) and cable distribution of satellite channels were allowed. Between 1987 and 1988 two channels aiming at a Norwegian audience were launched: TV3 (with one pan-Scandinavian channel during the first years) and TVNorge. The Swedish Kinnevik Group has been the owner of TV3 since the launch while TVNorge has changed ownership several times, and is now owned by SBS (ProSiebenSat.1).

In 1992 the privately-owned, commercial and national company TV 2 started, competing with NRK’s single channel. Both broadcasted via terrestrial transmitters. TV 2 had two print media giants as its leading owners: the Norwegian Schibsted and the Danish Egmont. Schibsted later sold its shares in TV 2. Another major Norwegian newspaper Group, A-pressen, now shares the ownership of TV 2 with Egmont.

The four media groups — NRK, TV 2, TV3/Kinnevik and TVNorge (SBS) — have gradually increased the number of channels. NRK1 is a general public-service channel. NRK2 focuses on news, documentary and culture. NRK3 is a children’s channel until 19.30, then airs programmes for youth and young adults later in the evening. The main channel from TV 2 is a general channel. TV 2’s second channel is called Zebra. It is mainly an entertainment channel. TV 2 also provides a news channel, a film channel and several sports channels. TV3 and TVNorge are mainly entertainment channels (films, series, reality, etc.) TV3’s second channel is called Viasat4 (entertainment and sports) and TVNorge’s second channel is called Fem (entertainment, mainly focusing on women).

The supply of foreign and international channels via satellite and cable has gradually increased.  Some of these channels have a Norwegian soundtrack (eg. Eurosport and Disney), while a lot have subtitles in Norwegian.

From 2007 to 2009 digital transmission has replaced analogue signals in the terrestrial broadcasting. The last analogue transmitters closed in December, 2009.

NRK is owned by the state and is obliged to follow public service principles in its programming (television as well as radio). NRK is financed almost exclusively by a license fee. Conservative political parties have proposed changes to NRK’s status. A right-populist party suggests selling the NRK to private investors and replacing the licence fee with advertising. The traditional conservative party proposes to finance the NRK via the state budget.

TV 2 was operating according to a licence agreement with the Ministry of Culture until the end of 2009. The agreement obliged the channel to obey certain public service obligations (diversity in programmes, daily news, etc.) in return for the privilege to broadcast via a terrestrial network. When the digital network was completed in 2009, TV 2 began to be treated more or less in the same way as TVNorge and TV3; it is planning to collect a fee from its viewers in addition to revenues from advertising.

Norwegian film production is subsidised. Between 20 and 25 films are produced each year in Norway. Approximately 200 are imported. The number of countries represented is fairly high, 28 foreign countries were represented. But films from the US represent almost 60 percent of the import. Both Norwegian and American films draw a higher audience than films from other countries; the combined market share for non-Norwegian and non-American films is less than 15 percent.

The organisation of cinemas in Norway has been different from all other countries. In order to protect people from harmful effects of films, the Cinema Act of 1912 introduced two kinds of regulation. One was film censorship: Some movies are prohibited (mainly because of sex or violence) and movies are given age limits. This kind of regulation can be found all over the world. The second form of regulation is particular to Norway: The local council in each municipality was given the authority to license cinema owners. Only those with a licence were allowed to operate a cinema. During the 1920s many municipal councils issued licences only to the municipality itself; publicly-owned cinemas still dominate with 70 percent of all cinemas and more than 80 percent of the attendance (2008).

In the private sector, the Swedish film and cinema company SF (Svensk Filmindustri) is the major operator.

National telegraph and telephone services used to be operated by a public institution called Telegrafverket. The institution was integrated in the civil service and had a monopoly on telephone services until 1988. In 1994 it changed name and was transformed into a joint-stock company: Telenor. The Norwegian state controls 54 percent of Telenor, but the remaining 46 percent is privately owned and listed on the Stock Exchange.

There is a lot of competition in the different telecommunication services, but Telenor is an important operator on all these markets (including satellite and cable television).

The use of the Internet is widespread, both at work and for private use. More than 70 percent of the population say they use the Internet on an average day. This means that the Internet reaches a larger proportion of the population than radio and newspapers.

Connection is through one of three wired broadband systems: the old telephone network, cable television and electricity suppliers. In addition there are several systems for wireless reception.

A lot of operators offer more or less specialised search engine services on the Internet. The most important content suppliers are well-established media companies like newspapers and television companies. E-commerce is growing rapidly.

All media are digital in the sense that information in a digital form is used in the production, storing and/or distribution.

Radio, television and Internet are digital in the sense that they are distributed to the end users in a digital form (see above). The analogue, terrestrial distribution of television ended in 2009, while radio is still distributed in parallel in a digital and analogue form via terrestrial transmitters. In addition, all major radio programmes and some television services are transmitted via the Internet.

The major national news agency, NTB – Norsk telegrambyrå, was established in 1867. The press now collectively owns the agency. In addition to the newspapers, major radio and television channels subscribe to its services. Early in the 20th century the Labour party press established its own press agency, distributing news and propaganda. In the postwar period other political parties established their own agencies. Most of these agencies disappeared when the era of the party press ended. Only the Social Democrat agency survived.

When the concentration of ownership started, one of the major newspaper owners, Orkla, established a news agency and the Social Democrat agency was transformed into Avisenes Nyhetsbyrå (ANB). Orkla’s agency was closed down after a few years, but there was strong competition between NTB and anb. This ended in 2006 and 2007, when NTB took over all general news services. Anb maintains only specialised and limited services.

In general, trade unions play an important role in Norway. All important groups in the media business have their own organisation. Four of them are important across different media: Norsk Journalistlag (NJ – Norwegian Union of Journalists), Mediebedriftenes landsforening (MBL – Norwegian Media Businesses’ Association), Norsk Redaktørforening (NR – Association of Norwegian Editors), All these organisations are members of international associations in their respective areas.

With the exception of material from news agencies, both NRK and the newspapers traditionally produce most of their content in-house (NRK imports 40 – 50 percent of its content from abroad). When commercial television started in the 1980s and ’90s, the commercial television channels did not want to establish their own production companies. Instead they relied on buying programme from external producers. This created a new market in which two of TV 2’s owners, Schibsted and Egmont, were especially active.

Commercial actors outside the media business always try to create a positive image for their products or themselves. Inventive media agents help them by producing ideas or material that is offered to the media. Media consultancy is a growing business.

Freedom of expression is secured in the Constitution and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. In 2004, the Norwegian parliament changed the constitution to better protect freedom of expression and instructed the government to promote diversity in the media and public debate.

There is specific legislation for broadcasting, film and cinema, but no press law and very little legislation specific for the Internet, etc. Pre-publication censorship in prohibited (with exception of cinema intended for children).

Newspapers and books are exempted from VAT. There is a continuous discussion about a similar exemption for magazines and journals. The state-owned public service broadcasting company is regarded as an important contributor to the diversity of the Norwegian media system.

In order to maintain local competition and national diversity, there is a system for newspaper subsidies. In 2005, direct subsidies total 300 million NOK (approximately 35-40m euro) and account for some 3 percent of newspapers’ total revenue. The subsidies are distributed according to specific criteria in order to reach national ideological and political newspapers, the “No. 2” newspapers in areas with local competition and the smallest local newspapers. There are separate subsidies for newspapers focusing on Sami language and the Sami population.

The general economic recession, which started in 2008, has reduced the revenues for the media, specially revenues from advertising. This has lead to a renewed discussion about the criteria for the press subsidies.

Since the mid-’90s, media ownership has become an important issue in media policy. In all branches of the media, there is a strong concentration of ownership. The same owners tend to exert power over several media. There is a strong integration among media owners in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden. Danish (Egmont and Aller) and Swedish (Kinnevik and Bonnier) media companies are important owners of Norwegian media. The Norwegian state owns NRK and is a majority shareholder in Telenor. Schibsted is the largest private media owner in Norway. The third major owner is Norwegian media conglomerate A-pressen. Two European companies – Mecom (or Edda, as the Norwegian subsidiary is called) and SBS (owned by the German ProSiebenSat.1) – represent the most important non-Nordic capital investments in Norwegian media.

In 1998, the Norwegian Parliament passed legislation to prevent ownership concentration. A new administration was established in 1999 in order to enforce the new law, Eierskapstilsynet (Media Ownership Authority), which is now integrated into Medietilsynet (Norwegian Media Authority).

There was a long, drawn-out battle between the Medietilsynet and Schibsted before Schibsted was finally permitted to take over control over Bergens Tidende, Stavanger Aftenblad and Fædrelandsvennen and merge the ownership with Aftenposten (which Schibsted already controlled) in the new newspaper and Internet giant Media Norge.

In addition to the three media organisations mentioned in section 5.3 (NJ, NR and MBL), a fourth important organisation is Norsk Presseforbund (NP). It does not represent one particular group, but has a general responsibility for media ethics. NP is responsible for the preservation and development of the Codes of Ethics for the Norwegian Press, which is also applicable to other media. NP has appointed a Press Council that evaluates individual cases of possible breaches of the ethical rules. The Press Council cannot impose sanctions on the media, but may require offenders to publish its judgements regarding unethical articles or programmes. Because this system is regarded as fairly competent and just, the state has so far not found it necessary to formalise its control of journalistic work.

Radio and television channels that have to rely on a licence in order to operate can lose this licence if they break the licence agreement. So far, these kinds of sanctions are seldom brought about because of editorial content; sanctions more often deal with advertising and economic or technical wrongdoings.

The legal system can, of course, also be used against the media. The penal code contains clauses about libel, invasion of privacy, etc., and there are specific laws on how the media can operate in courts of law, copyright legislation, etc.

Everyone is allowed to start new a newspaper. The problem is that it is very expensive to start a new paper in a market where there is already an established paper. Very few succeed. It is also possible to start radio and television channels with satellite distribution. If the uplink is in Norway, the station has to comply with Norway’s relatively strict regulations, especially when it comes to advertising (it is not allowed to advertise tobacco, alcohol, etc. It is prohibited to target children. Commercial breaks are not allowed in films and series, etc.).

In order to distribute radio or television programmes terrestrially, an authorisation is necessary. The number of available national channels was limited when analogue distribution was used. Digital distribution has made it possible to distribute more channels.

Local television has never been a success in Norway; large areas are without a local programme. Local radio is much more successful. New licences were issued in 2008. The process created a lot of discussion about the selection criteria.

Formal training for journalists started in the early postwar period. In 1965 the state took over responsibility for journalism education and created Norsk Journalistskole (Norwegian School of Journalism), which was later integrated in Høgskolen i Oslo (Oslo Univeristy College). The second school of journalism was established at Høgskulen i Volda (Volda University College) in 1971. Other university colleges and universities now also offer professional education in journalism.

Although journalism education is not required for employment at newspapers and other news organisations, most new recruits have this kind of background.

The main source for basic and detailed information about Norway is Statistics Norway (Statistisk sentralbyrå). Their annual publication Statistisk Årbok/Statistical Yearbook of Norway contains information about most aspects of geography, economics and life in Norway. See section 07: Recreational, Cultural and Sporting Activities for some information about media and their audiences. It is not a very good source for information about media.

Nordicom and MedieNorge give a more comprehensive picture.

Norway is a stable democracy with well-developed media. The press (news media like newspapers, radio and television) used to be very focused on political and social issues. Their aim was education and propaganda. In the postwar period, especially since the early 1980s, media outlets have become more and more focused on their own commercial results. The content is continually adapted to what is selling on the market. The competition between media outlets is strong. The worldwide financial decline in 2008 and 2009 has hit Norway less intensely than most other European economies, but the media’s revenues from advertising has been hit relatively hard. This comes in a period when newspaper reading has been in a slow decline for some years. It is at the end of 2009 difficult to distinguish between short-term economic factors and more long-term trends in media structure.

  • Sigurd Høst (2009) Avisåret 2008, Volda: Høgskulen I Volda
  • Helge Østbye and Toril Aalberg (2008) «Media and Politics in Norway», ch. 5 (pp. 83-102), in Jesper Strömbäck, Mark Ørsten and Toril Aalberg (eds.):
  • Communicating Politics, Political Communication in the Nordic Countries, Göteborg: Nordicom
  • Ch. 2 «Det norske mediesystemet», in Ture Schwebs and Helge Østbye (2002) Media i samfunnet, Oslo: Det norske samlaget
  • Gunn Sara Enli, Trine Syvertsen og Susanne Østby Sæther (Eds.) (2006) Et Hjem for oss - et hjem for deg? Analyser av TV 2, Kristiansand: IJ-forlaget
  • Hallvard Moe (2008) «Public Service Media Online? Regulating Public Broadcasters' Internet Services - A Comparative Analysis». Television & New Media 9(3) (pp. 220-238)

Helge Østbye
Professor at University of Bergen
Fosswinckelsgt. 6 Bergen, Norway
Tel: +47 55589106